I’m going to bring you something so quintessentially Scottish today. It’s branching out a bit for me (as I’ve been squarely in the winery and brewery world), but today we’re going to talk scotch. Specifically, visiting distilleries in Scotland. Whether you like scotch or not (I’m kind of “eh”), I think at least one scotch distillery is an itinerary must!
I’d spent 10 days exploring Scotland’s Highlands and islands previously, but that trip had completely missed this corner of the country, so I was excited to see what Aberdeenshire had to offer. And my main reason for visiting (due to work) was to experience a few single-malt whisky distilleries in Scotland.
Full disclosure, I work for Brown-Forman, who owns these three scotch distilleries, which is why I was in Scotland and had the opportunity to visit them. However, there’s no relationship between the distilleries and this blog, and they don’t endorse me or the blog in any way. All opinions are, as always, completely my own!
Scotch distilleries to visit in the Aberdeenshire area
I had a handful of other options on my to-do list, depending on time. Unfortunately I ran out of time, but if you are able you should definitely check out Macallan’s new, massive, state-of-the-art distillery—people rave about it. Both Glenfiddich and Glenlivet also get great reviews, and the Speyside Cooperage would be a unique visit if you haven’t been to a working cooperage before.
I’ve plotted them on a map to give you an idea of where they are in relation to each other. This would be 3-4 days to do it all well, and that’s if you weren’t going to other tourist spots.
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After a rainy and chilly evening in Aberdeen, I awoke to…a rainy and chilly morning as I headed out to Glendronach for the first of my scotch distillery visits. It’s an easy drive, about 45 minutes to an hour, and I rolled up just in time for my tour. Yvonne was my guide for the morning, and we started out braving the rain and chill for about a half hour.
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This distillery dates back to 1826, and had quite a few ups and downs in its early years (and more recently, like in the 1990s). Some of the buildings are really cool and old, and I got to do my tasting in one of them.
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Glendronach is considered a Highland single malt, and is known for its sherry cask maturation process. As someone new to scotch and who is struggling to adjust my palate to it (I’m more of a bourbon girl), Glendronach’s sherried whisky is a little more up my alley than strong peated ones from, say, Islay.
Pro tip: I’ve learned this through my work, but pairing certain strong cheese with these particular whiskies can really help someone who’s not a huge scotch fan get a little more comfortable with it. Think a blue cheese, a manchego, etc.
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I sneakily changed into more appropriate clothing and footwear in the car, then hit the road again to get to BenRiach. I stopped at Dean’s (of shortbread fame) for some warm and creamy cullen skink (fish soup), fish and chips, and a Victoria sandwich cake.
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BenRiach doesn’t do regular walk-up tours, but because interest is so high they’ve begun offering a special tour on Tuesdays and Thursdays (but you do need to book ahead).
One of the coolest things to see at BenRiach is the malting floor. It’s one of only two scotch distilleries with working floor maltings in the Speyside region. I think once a year if you time it right you’d be able to actually see the malting in action (but I’m not positive they let tours see it…you’d have to confirm).
BenRiach has some really interesting single malts, and often makes both a peated and unpeated version of each age statement. What’s nice is that the peated whiskies here are SO different than the crazy smoky ones from Islay. The Speyside peat is a lot mellower (and doesn’t have that sea brine-y flavor), so it makes the resulting whisky much more palatable to a newbie like me who doesn’t really like peat.
I spent a lovely night at the Craigellachie hotel near BenRiach (more on that later), and then woke up to a gorgeous blue-skied morning. Such a change from the cold and drippy day before! I’d carved out time to go see Elgin Cathedral and Bow Fiddle Rock beforehand, and then got to Glenglassaugh for a 11:00am tour.
What’s so unique about Glenglassaugh is its coastal location…right overlooking this gorgeous bay at Sandend. The location is not only stunning, but provides unique flavors to the coastal single malts—very unique for distilleries in Scotland!
Is this not the prettiest distillery view you can imagine?!
I got to chat with the lovely Mike, who was filling barrels and rolling them with INSANE accuracy out the door (blind) to a moving forklift who came along and caught it. It was like a crazy choreographed dance.
Then I went inside for my tasting and got to try a few older ones as well. Jill was my tour guide for both my scotch distillery tours at BenRiach and Glenglassaugh, and she’s incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. She also recommended a wonderful nearby lunch spot, which made my day.
So there’s my real intro to scotch single malt whisky. I’m still trying to develop a palate for it, but that didn’t matter—the experiences of visiting these distilleries in Scotland was awesome regardless!
Tips for visiting (Highland) distilleries in Scotland
- Where to eat:
- You can grab a nice quick lunch at the Dean’s shortbread factory
- If you’re near Glenglassaugh, it is 100% worth your time to find The Old Kirk Cafe & Bistro
- Where to stay:
Other high-proof adventures you’ll love:
- Cider Making & ‘Keeving It Real’ in Ireland’s Boyne Valley
- A Weekend of Wine in Willamette Valley
- Exploring Beer & Wine Country in Nelson, NZ
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